Kentucky's Republican governor reiterated Thursday he will run for re-election this year despite sagging approval ratings and mounting pressure from within his own party as would-be challengers grow restless. Gov. Matt Bevin has already drawn three opponents for the May primary, including state Rep. Robert Goforth, who denounced the governor's leadership style as one of "arrogance, scorn and hateful ridicule."
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. James Comer — who lost to Bevin in the 2015 GOP primary by a scant 83 votes — signaled Thursday he was open to reconsidering his vow not to challenge Bevin, adding "he's in worse shape than I realized."
"I have been shocked at the number of people who have called begging me to run against him," Comer told The Associated Press in an interview. "I think that we need to have a discussion as a party (for) every available option that's out there."
Bevin's approval ratings have fallen since his failed attempt to make changes to the state's struggling public pension systems. His comments about teachers and other public workers who opposed his ideas prompted thousands to raucously protest at the state Capitol last year, closing schools in more than 30 districts across the state.
Bevin told reporters Thursday he is not worried about divisions within the GOP. In an early pitch to voters for a second term, Bevin said he'll emphasize his willingness to take on difficult issues that had festered for years.
"Do you want to continue to move forward to make progress economically, from a tax standpoint?" he said. "Do you want to make progress from addressing the big problems that have been ignored like the pensions, like the antiquated tax structure? Do you want to move forward on advancing the ways in which we are preparing our young people for life in the 21st century?"
For months, Bevin has held dozens of community forums across the state with supporters and critics alike. He has said repeatedly he is not concerned about his approval numbers, attributing them to his willingness to make the tough decisions regarding one of the country's worst funded public retirement plans.
"In America, you can criticize anybody you want," Bevin said Thursday, responding to a question about the divisiveness in the Republican Party.
Bevin said he will officially file to run later this month. Asked if he has settled on a running mate, Bevin replied: "I am working on that." Bevin said he's pleased with the job performance of Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who is the state's first African-American elected to statewide office. Bevin says he has talked with Hampton at length about her political future.
"As to whether or not we will run again will be determined," he said.
His comments came hours before he was scheduled to speak to hundreds of the state's business leaders along with the legislature's top GOP leaders. It would be his first public appearance with Republican leaders since he criticized them for not passing a pension bill during a special legislative session last month. Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said GOP leaders urged Bevin not to call that session, but Bevin said Thayer's comments were not true.
Bevin insisted Thursday that his relationship with lawmakers is good.
"Look at what we've gotten done in the last three years," he said. "Find any 10-year period in the history of this state, and show me that we've made more forward progress in any 10-year period than we did in the last three years."